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Fieldwork: Turning 61 in Yellowstone

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Last week, I headed for Yellowstone National Park for my final invasive-weed-digging session of the summer. I left the day the first fall storm blasted the park, and because of snow and accidents on the mountain passes, I took the long way around, driving north to Interstate 90 at Laurel, Montana, then west to Livingston, and then south to Mammoth Hot Springs, where I'm based for my volunteer work.

Taking the long way turned what is usually a three-hour commute into five-plus hours. In howling wind and slashing rain. Still, when I got to Mammoth, I put on my rain gear, dug out my plant knife and bear spray, and headed up the Beaver Ponds Trail to check out a patch of spotted knapweed (Centuarea maculosa) I had discovered on my last trip. (There I am in the photo at the top of the post, wet, a bit cold, but happy.)

I spent a couple of hours surveying my various weeding sites, and then called it a day. 

That night, I went to sleep to rain pattering on the roof of Red's topper, a soothing sound after a long drought has filled much of the West's air with forest-fire smoke. I woke to silence, the eerie strangled whistle of a bull elk bugling his harem, and... Snow. 

Red in the snow at the Mammoth Campground before dawn.

White, wet, and cold. After boiling water on Red's tailgate and making my breakfast (organic instant oatmeal with dried cranberries and raisins), I checked the weather. The temperature was 28 degrees F; the forecast predicted positively balmy mid-forties by afternoon. I decided to let the day warm up a bit before heading out with plant knife and bear spray in hand. 

I took a short hike to survey a spot where knapweed had been reported and watched a flock of at least 200 mountain bluebirds feeding in the shortgrass grasslands (I couldn't get close enough to shoot a photo). The mass of vivid blue bluebirds fluttering as they snatched half-frozen insects out of the air looked like it was snowing chips of blue sky!

That afternoon I spent a satisfying few hours filling a 33-gallon trash bag with knapweed carcasses. The soil was so wet that the plants popped out of the ground, root and all, with leverage from my plant knife and my hands.

Spotted knapweed or Centuarea maculosa in the language of science. Don't let those pretty purple flowers fool you, this plant is a killer. 

If you don't know spotted knapweed, here's the short explanation for why someone who loves plants and biodiversity spends her precious free time volunteering to kill them: Centaurea maculosa is native to Eurasia, where it has a place in the natural communities. On this continent, the plant has no long-term beneficial relationships with pollinators, songbirds, or grazers; it takes up space without contributing substantially. Worse yet, it exudes poisons out of its roots that kill surrounding plants, allowing knapweed to push those plants out, harm the ecosystem and dominate whole areas.

I've seen places where spotted knapweed rings centuries-old, head-high big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) and gradually kills these shrubs that form the sheltering overstory for valleys and basins, much like coniferous trees provide the canopy for the mountain forests. 

I'm on a mission to help restore the shrubland and grassland communities of the northern part of Yellowstone, in particular those old-growth big sagebrush stands that are increasingly rare outside the park. The tallest big sagebrush grow where soils are deepest and most fertile, so they have long been plowed for farm fields and hay pastures. The 250 or so species that depend on big sagebrush, from pronghorn antelope and pygmy rabbits to sage-grouse and flashy black-and-white sagebrush sheepmoths suffer when these stands disappear. 

So I dig knapweed, working on my hands and knees with my trusty plant knife, speaking quietly to the sagebrush as I remove the knapweed and their killing roots from the soil. "Hang in there, Grandmothers," I say, applying leverage to the handle of my plant knife to grub out a particularly huge clump of knapweed with a foot-long root. "I'm working on restoring your soil. Don't give up yet!"

A big sagebrush taller than I am and at least several centuries old slowly being poisoned by a colony of spotted knapweed.

So my weeding days go, some sunny and warm, some chill and windy. I dig until my legs and fingers cramp, and then take time to read and think and wander favorite trails. 

Monday morning I woke in before dawn as the darkness eased, hearing a bull elk give his piercing and strangled whistle very nearby. I sat up in my sleeping bag, but there wasn't enough light yet to see where he was. About half an hour later, when I was up and dressed, and had my camp stove on Red's tailgate boiling water for my oatmeal, he began to bugle again.

Soon, there was crashing on the hillside. Half a dozen cow elk appeared, trotting down the steep slope. A few of them stopped to chow down on the chokecherry shrubs at the neighboring campsite, for all the world as if they were in a buffet line. 

Chokecherry morning buffet... 

More cows trotted down the hill. The bull wheezed and whistled, the sound coming closer. More cows ambled by, some with late calves following. 

Just as I sat on the tailgate with my cup of hot oatmeal, Mr. Stud himself appeared, all hormones with rack high, pushing the last of his two-dozen-cow harem right through my campsite. I retreated into Red's topper as he stopped a few yards away and looked around as if to say, "I'm here. Where is the party?"

 

A good way to begin my 61st birthday!

After the show and breakfast, I packed up my trash bags, plant knife, and bear spray, and went back to work digging knapweed. 

At the end of the day, I relaxed in the lounge at the Mammoth Hotel Dining Room over a shot of very good Montana micro-distillery whisky and a serving of warm huckleberry cobbler with local vanilla ice cream. 

The Dining Room and Lounge in summer, with elk lounging on the old parade ground, ogled by visitors. 

Sixty-one is a difficult milestone for me. Not because I fear being old. For one who wasn't expected to live past my twenties, each year is a blessing. I've earned these wrinkles and the silver hairs shining through the red. 

It's difficult because sixty-one is the age when Richard, the love of my life and my husband for the better part of three decades, died of brain cancer. I will be older than him soon, and forever after. As I live on, the years we spent together recede. That is hard. 

It is easier to bear the grief when I have useful work. Which is why I volunteer to dig invasive weeds in the landscape I love. And why I write. Because in this time of drawing lines between "us" and "them," of hating those who are different; in this time of global climate change, of hurricanes so powedeful we have never seen their like or the scale of their destruction before, of tragic earthquakes, doing something to heal this earth and we who share it is more important than ever. 

I believe love wins in the end. And I do love this earth and the lives who work together to make it home to us all. 

Me at 61, with one of my favorite grandmother plants. 

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Hurricanes, Climate Change, and Restoration

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If you're like me, you probably spent a lot of time in the past several weeks surfing the internet for news of Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma. I have friends and relatives in Houston (all were flooded out with varying severity, but all are okay) and friends in the Leeward Islands, Virgin Islands, and in Florida (all okay so far).  

Part of my obsession with the news is concern about those in harm's way, and part is the kind of horrified fascination we humans are subject to when seeing a catastrophe unfold as we watch. I grieve for the people killed and injured, and for those whose homes and lives have been devastated.

I grieve equally for the longer-term catastrophe of global climate change. For those millions of species and uncountable individuals with whom we share this planet and upon whom we depend for so much, from the oxygen we breathe to the beauty that succors our souls. These lives have also taken a huge hit from the two hurricanes: the trees in the forests on St. Barts stripped bare; the bats and lizards that once sheltered in those trees, the birds and butterflies. The fish and rays in the shallows as whole bays are sucked dry, then catastrophically flooded by passing storms. The corals, the sharks, the alligators and manatees, the mangroves whose roots buffer storm surges and shelter so many other lives... 

We can't know if global climate change is specifically responsible for this first-ever incident of two Category 4 hurricanes hitting the US mainland within a short time. (Irma was a Cat 5 when it hit the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, but had lessened to a Cat 4 when it hit Key West.) As this article in the LA Times explains, we can say that warming air temperatures and the resultant warming of oceans caused by global climate change makes stronger hurricanes more likely.

So whether or not each storm was a direct result of global climate change, two catastrophic storms coming so close together are a picture of what the future looks like: more extreme weather events, and fewer "normal" periods of stable weather. More intense rainfall and flooding in some places and longer droughts in others; more catastrophic tornadoes, winds, cyclones; more severe winter storms where I live, and warmer and drier winters elsewhere.  

And of course, more wildfires like the ones burning across the West and coloring my dawn runs (top photo) and sunsets. Whole landscapes will change as species move or die out in response to global climate change. That alone feels unbearably sad.

Forest-fire-smoke tinted sunset over Cody

Grief is paralyzing, something I know well after losing Richard to brain cancer nearly six years ago (glioblastoma, the same kind that Senator McCain is dealing with). Sometimes you just have to go with it and let the waves wash over you. But if you stay down too long, you may never surface again.

My remedy for long-term grief of that sort that could very well drown a person is to do something. Not just anything at random, something that is a direct counter to the cause of the grief. 

Writing is one of my grief therapies. Habitat restoration is the other, specifically returning healthy communities of native species to degraded land. I've restored songbird and butterfly habitat to the grounds of a coal-fired power plant, restored healthy mountain prairie on a blighted former industrial parcel, nursed a thread of urban creek that had become a waste-dump ditch back to life as a cleanser of urban runoff and feeder trout stream. 

That creek before restoration...

And after.

In the face of global climate change, restoration offers hope. It feels like something tangible I can do to heal at least my small corner of the earth. 

So I am grateful that I have this house to bring back to life, its formerly sterile lawn-and-shade-tree yard to re-wild, and that I have the opportunity to work in Yellowstone National Park as a radical weeder, helping to restore the ecosystems of the place often called America's Serengheti for its awe-inspiring wildlife, large and small. 

I'm headed back to Yellowstone later this week for one last weeding stint, and to celebrate my 61st birthday in a landscape that holds my heart. When I get home, the last set of replacement windows will be in the garage waiting their turn to make my house more energy-efficient and sustainable. (Retrofitting my house to use less energy is part of my restoration effort to combat global climate change.) A new shipment of native and heritage plants will be awaiting planting as I continue to transform lawn into habitat that welcomes songbirds and pollinators. 

Purple sage (Salvia pachyphilla), beloved of butterflies, thriving in the rock garden that replaces part of my front lawn.

And I will return to work writing the new version of Bless the Birds, my memoir celebrating love and life. 

Yesterday I took a break from writing and obsessing over hurricane news, and began laying out the borders for a sitting patio and paths in the part of my back yard that won't be disturbed by the giant forklift when the largest window unit is installed later this month.

(The bricks are a gift of my neighbor, who has a spare stack of about 200. He saw me lining paths in my front yard with bricks and offered his to me. His yard is a tidy lawn and shade trees, his politics are the opposite of mine; no matter, we trade building materials, cookies, and snow shoveling in winter.)

Next summer, I'll sit on that patio in the shade of the big spruce tree, and watch butterflies and native bees visit the wildflowers in the native meadow I'll plant when window-replacement is finished. 

Restoration heals. Lives, buildings, whole landscapes. Our bodies, spirits, our communities, our wildlands. Our planet. 

We can all find ways to help restore what is broken, to bridge divides, to heal the losses. We must. Working together, we can accomplish miracles. 

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Memoir Revision: Starting Over With a New Perspective

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Back in March, I started two new projects: my running practice, and a total rewrite of Bless the Birds, the memoir I've been working on sporadically for the last, well, six years. 

The running's going well. I've settled into a routine of running two mornings a week, and I'm up to 3.7 miles now. I'm not fast, but I am running regularly, and that's what counts. 

I love running for the righteous feeling when I've finished. And for the excuse to be outside in sagebrush country, the landscapes of my heart. It's a joy to see the occasional coyote (they are much faster than I am!), listen to sparrows call, watch swallows dip and swoop after insects, and see the sagebrush and bunchgrasses and wildflowers go through the cycle of the seasons. 

(The photo at the top of the post is from my running route last week, with an forest-fire-smoke orange dawn lighting Rattlesnake--on the right--and Spirit--on the left--mountains, and the Shoshone River flowing in its shallow canyon below me.)

In May, that same view was greener and dotted with spring wildflowers.

The memoir work is going well too, if much more slowly than I had hoped. Which isn't surprising, really, since I am starting over from the beginning, writing the story anew from a completely different narrative framework.

The original versions (all eight or so of them!) were much more chronological, and that meant it was too easy for me to get mired in the details of brain cancer and not focus on the point of the story. Which is living the end of your life with love. Heck, living your whole life with love, whatever comes. 

Bless the Birds is about being mindful in choosing how to live. Not just letting life roll you over, no matter how hard things become.

For Richard and me, that meant deliberately choosing to live with love and kindness and compassion and wonder and joy. Even as brain cancer took over our days.

Richard Cabe (1950-2011) on the way home from his monthly check-in with his oncologist; by then, he had survived two brain surgeries and a course of radiation, plus a course of chemo. 

Even as Richard's tumor- and surgery-impaired brain challenged his ability to do the things he had always done so easily. Even when we know he wouldn't survive. Especially then. 

This new version of the story begins with "then," when we knew he was terminal, knew he was headed for hospice care when we got home. It opens with the first night of The Big Trip, our belated honeymoon trip, a 4,000-mile drive to and down the Pacific Coast from Washington to southern California. A trip we took because we wanted to enjoy our time while we could. 

Those three weeks on the road were more of an adventure than we bargained for, and two months from the day we got home, he died. But the trip speaks for the way we lived the journey with his brain cancer: we lived.

Richard savoring a meal at Redfish Restaurant in Port Orford, Oregon. (Thank you Ann Vileisis and Tim Palmer, for the visit and the recommendation to eat at Redfish!)

We didn't waste our time regretting. Or not much time anyway. We did our best to savor as many of the moments as we could. Laughed, loved, fought, ate, drank, celebrated, and grieved. And walked hand-in-hand right up to the day he "woke up dead," as he liked to phrase what he imagined happening. 

This entirely new version of Bless the Birds is a story within a story, framed by the days of that Big Trip, with flashbacks to show who we were and how we got to that journey with Richard's right brain deteriorating to the point that he ws losing his vision and his balance; to the point that his bladder (as he put it) didn't always talk to his brain, and his ability read a map or dial a cellphone was gone. His sense of humor was intact, as was his ability to think and reason. He was as incisive and insightful as ever, even if he had to sleep a lot of the time. 

Writing the story this way reminds me of E.L. Doctorow's quote about writing fiction (from the Paris Review, "Writers at Work: Interviews"):

Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.

When I have time to work on the story, that's exactly how it feels: like driving at night in the fog. I'm in Chapter 11, not quite halfway through with the first draft of this new version, and I can't see very far ahead, but I trust I can make the whole trip groping along by the light of my intuition's headlights. I trust that the story will work.

It's slow, and it's painful to relive that time, but it feels right. And as with any good writing, I'm learning new things along the way about myself, about Richard, and about our journey together.

Here's how the new story begins:

Day One, Odometer Reading 182 miles:

Richard opened his eyes as I slowed the car for the turn to the gravel ranch road. I rolled down the windows, letting in the rich smell of new-mown hay along with a distinctive, throbbing call: “Khrrr, khrrrr, khrrr!” 

“Sandhill cranes!” A smile creased Richard’s tanned face. He reached for my hand as the cranes called again. “I’m a lucky guy.” 

Except for the terminal brain cancer, I thought. 

I swiped at tears with the hand that should have been holding the steering wheel, and then drove on toward the ranch headquarters, a cluster of white-painted buildings. I parked in our usual spot the shade of the spruce tree by the bunkhouse and turned to Richard. “I’m going to haul our stuff upstairs.” 

“I can help.” He pulled his six-foot length slowly out of the car, and then reached behind the seat for his briefcase. I grabbed our duffel, the box with his medications, my briefcase, and his pillow. We walked across the lawn and into the ranch house. As I turned to go up the stairs to the bedrooms, Richard stopped. “You go first,” he said. Uh oh.

“Richard can manage the stairs, can’t he?” Betsy, the facilities manager at Carpenter Ranch had asked when I called about our stay. I relayed the question.

“Of course.” His voice carried the confidence of 61 years of inhabiting a strong and appealingly male form. The voice of a man who could free-climb a cliff, sculpt a one-ton boulder, or juggle three balls while balancing on one leg. A man who once would have bounded up the narrow flight of steps at the ranch house, carrying our mound of gear because he could. 

This Richard froze at the bottom, his right leg lifted, unable to move upward. I stopped at the top of the stairs, arms loaded, watching with a stomach-churning mix of horror and fascination, compelled to witness the debilitating effects of the brain-tumor I could not stop. Finally, he took the steps slowly, one at a time like an old man, gripping the handrail.

I showed him the bathroom down the hall, and then he stretched out on the bed and fell asleep.

On I go, feeling my way. I guess that's pretty much how we live life. We can't really see ahead (although we think we can). We do our best with what we can discern, and trust that our best will take us to where we need to go, safely and without harm to anyone. And that the trip is worthwhile. 

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Bathroom Renovation, Eclipse Week, Family

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This was a crazy week, as befits a week that includes a total eclipse of the sun passing across central Wyoming (the exact center of the zone of totality was just about two hours south of where I live in Cody). I spent last Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday madly working to get the house ready for a family visit from my brother, sister-in-law, youngest niece, 89-year-old Dad, and my sister-in-law's two Italian greyhounds, Sarge and Pepper.

(The photo above is the fam atop the Beartooth Plateau, the largest alpine plateau in the lower 48 states, on Wednesday morning. From left to right: Alice, my niece, holding Pepper; Lucy, my SIL, holding Sarge; Bill; and Dad)

In the midst of my family-visit-prep frenzy, I also had a lovely visit from Harry, Nicole, Ethan and Diedre Hansen, incredibly talented metalsmith friends from Salida. (Check out their work at Sterling & Steel.) They were on their way to a show in Bend, Oregon, and came to Wyoming for the eclipse.

Sterling & Steel candlesticks paired with "Prosthesis," a tabletop sculpture by my late love, Richard Cabe.

I had intended to take time out on Monday to drive south with Cody friends and see the eclipse. Only I woke that morning feverish and chilled, feeling very, very punk, and not up for going anywhere farther than from my bedroom at one end of the house to the kitchen at the other end to greet my contractor, Jeff, when he arrived at seven am to work on the basement bathroom.

Work that had to be finished by Tuesday evening, when the Subaru bearing the Washington crew was scheduled to arrive, since Dad would have the upstairs guest bedroom and bathroom, and Bill, Lucy, and Alice (plus Sarge and Pepper), would occupy the private and cozy family room downstairs with its own bathroom. 

Family room now... 

The family room was as ready as it was going to be, having already made the transition from ugly to comfortable over the past couple of months.  

And when I first saw it last October (the photo does not really do justice to just how ugly the room was!)

But the bathroom... Well, honestly, it was so awful that until I realized that the family visit would come in August, I had tried not to think about it. It wasn't just ugly when I bought the house, it was downright scary; only one of the fixtures worked and was actually something you'd want to use. (Not the sink, nor the shower.) And the disgusting floor and termite-nibbled walls... Ick. 

The basement bathroom when I bought the house, a room I described as one you'd want a tetanus shot before entering.

Improving the bathroom involved basically starting over within the existing shell. So I watched the shadow of the eclipse sweep across northwest Wyoming in between helping Jeff as he built a new shower in the gutted bathroom, and began laying new floor.

(I've seen a total eclipse before and it definitely put the "awe" back in awesome. Seeing the stars come out in the middle of the day, hearing the birds make nighttime sounds, and watching a 360-degree "sunrise" simply are unforgettable, one of those experiences that changes the way you understand the world.)

Bathroom post-demo, mid-renovation

As it turned out, everything took longer than either Jeff or I expected (that darned eclipse!), and it was mid-morning on Wednesday before the bathroom was finished enough to be usable. Which was actually fine because Bill et al. didn't arrive until a day later than expected: they were in eastern Oregon watching the eclipse when Dad became unresponsive. He ended up watching the total eclipse through the windows in the back of the ambulance ferrying him to the clinic in Fossil, Oregon.

(He's fine. At 89, he sometimes forgets to drink enough water and notice when his chronically low blood pressure goes into the danger zone.)

So instead of them arriving in Cody Tuesday evening in time for dinner, we rendezvoused in Red Lodge, Montana, the next morning, and took one of our planned field trips--driving the Beartooth Plateau--as a caravan on their way into Cody. 

Arctic gentians (Gentiana algida) on the Beartooth Plateau

Despite a serious haze of smoke from huge forest fires in western Montana, it was a glorious day up on the plateau. The tundra was already russet and gold with fall, but we saw arctic gentians blooming, black rosy-finches, and a small family herd of mountain goats, the latter so close that Dad, who is losing his vision to both glaucoma and macular degeneration, could see them through Bill's scope. 

Mountain goats grazing a still-green swale in the tundra atop the Beartooth Plateau (that pointy arete in the background is the "bear's tooth" for which the plateau is named). 

And when we got home, Jeff had finished enough of work on the bathroom that it looked great, so everyone was impressed. (Me included.)

The basement bathroom, much improved...

The next day we wandered downtown, toured the Buffalo Bill Center for the West (actually, we only toured two of its five museums, the Draper Museum of Natural History, which I could easily spend a whole day immersed in, plus the museum about "Buffalo Bill," the stage persona of Col. William F. Cody, and Cody's fascinating and difficult life). 

Friday morning, we split up. I drove Dad and Bill up the North Fork and into Yellowstone National Park, while Lucy and Alice and the two dogs headed south to Colorado to visit Lucy's sister TD. (Lucy and Alice wanted to go to Yellowstone too, but they had committed to being in Colorado Friday night.)

It was another gorgeous day, complete with an afternoon rainstorm which cleared out the smoke haze and opened up the distant views. I didn't take many photos--I was driving. But I enjoyed showing Dad and Bill "my" park. They have both been to Yellowstone a number of times before (I think we visited as a family for the first time when I was 8 years old and Bill ten). I took them to some favorite and lesser-known sights, and showed them the areas where I have been weeding these past two summers. 

Lake Yellowstone, an azure sheet of water-reflecting-sky, from Lake Butte Overlook. 

We saw bison and pronghorn and loons and swans and elk and all sorts of late-summer wildflowers. The traffic wasn't bad, and the rain was a true delight. 

Lewis monkeyflower (Mimulus lewisii) and fivenerve sunflower (Helianthella quinquenervis) on Mt. Washburn

On our way home, as we wound down the Clarks Fork River (one of the West's few un-dammed rivers) and up and over Dead Indian Hill, Dad said, "I understand why you wanted to move back to Cody. I can see that you're happy here."

I am. And I feel very fortunate to have been able to come home to the place that has held my heart since that first family trip to Yellowstone fifty years ago. It makes me happy to think that Dad, who was quite worried about my move, now sees the place I love through my eyes. 

The next morning, watching he and Bill watch birds at Alkali Lake just outside Cody, I realized that this likely is Dad's last trip to visit me. I'm grateful to Bill, Lucy, and Alice for bringing him, and grateful to have been able to show him my house, my town, and this beloved landscape. 

****

And on a current news note: My heart and thoughts are with southeast Texas, and to all affected by Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey. Please be generous in your support: Here's a round-up of ways to help

Blessings to all, and stay safe.  

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Scraping Corn, Wandering Mind

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Sometimes you just need time to do tasks where your mind can let go and wander. 

Shantel Durham, my house-painter, made that wise comment this afternoon when she was in the floor-to-ceiling closets in my guest bedroom, painting the dingy grey walls and shelves a clean white. 

We were talking about how much I appreciate her work. Over the past six months, Shantel and her roller and brush have transformed the interior of my long-neglected house from a place so unappealing that my realtor and friends shook their heads when I declared I wanted to buy it, to a place that makes people smile when they walk in the front door. (The photo above is my light-filled and colorful office, which was a dingy cave before Shantel painted it, and her dad trimmed out the gaps in the walls and built the shelves.)

Shantel's a single mom raising an active and smart pre-schooler, and she's going to college--she graduated at the top of her class in the pre-nursing program at the local community college this spring, and is starting to study for her RN this week. So she's got plenty to do in her life. 

I said something about how grateful I was that she devotes her precious weekend time to painting for me, and she responded with that nugget of wisdom.

Her words reminded me of Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield's book, After the Ecstasy, the Laundry, about how enlightenment lies in the mundane moments of our every day lives, not just those rare "aha!" moments when we feel a spiritual kick. 

Which may be why I spent today, the day before the total eclipse of 2017, which crosses central Wyoming tomorrow mid-morning, doing ordinary things.

Ordinary things like washing my sheets, shaking out my blankets, and rotating my mattress. (And yes, those lovely green walls that make my bedroom feel like a treehouse Shantel's work.)

Eclipses are extraordinary astronomical events--seeing the stars come out in daytime as the sun is eclipsed entirely by our moon is a wondrous and truly awesome experience, in the original meaning of that word, as in "full of awe."

Many spiritual traditions regard eclipses as times of great change, opportunities to focus inward, to harness the shift in the sacred, the energy of the cosmos, the beyond-words-power that moves us in ways we often do not understand, and sometimes are not even aware of until afterwards. 

For me, a day spent tending to the mundane in a mindful way is part of preparing for a shift I feel coming in my own life. I can't see what it is yet, but I can feel it in a kind of inner awareness, a listening within that I notice especially when I am engaged in tasks that allow my mind to wander, "where it will go..." as the Beatles wrote in "Fixing a Hole." ("I'm fixing a hole/ where the rain gets in/ and stops my mind from wandering/ where it will go.")

So after I tended to my bed, I scraped ears of fresh local sweet corn I bought at the Farmer's Market on Thursday, and bagged cups of kernels to put into the freezer for this winter, when having frozen corn that tastes as sweet as summer sun will be a treat.

Ears of fresh sweet corn headed for the yellow bowl, where I will scrape the kernels off the cob.

Quart bags in the freezer, giving me that satisfying feeling of having food put by for winter. 

I pitchforked up more turf in the front yard and planted the rest of the irises that I divided last weekend from a bed of rhizomes packed so tightly that they didn't even bloom this year. My digging-up-and-separating efforts yielded enough irises to cover three times the area of the existing iris bed! 

While I had my pitchfork out, I dug up more unwanted turf in the rock-garden part of the front yard and planted blanketflower seeds from my former yard in Salida to add to the clump of blanketflower I got from friends here, which is blooming like mad right now. 

A sunflower bee on the blanketflower, happily collecting pollen (you can see the orange clumps of pollen filling the "baskets" on her hind legs). 

I used to need to think I had my life planned out. Living through Richard's brain cancer, and then my mother's death and his death in the same year cured me of that impulse to try to control anything. 

So this mellower me is listening to the inner feeling of change coming, and letting myself relax into it.

Whatever is ahead, I am grateful to be here in the house and yard I am bringing back to life with the help of Shantel, her dad Jeff, and others. I am grateful to be at home in the landscapes that hold my heart, in a community of friends who have welcomed me back warmly.

This place is my refuge, my quiet center, the sanctuary that allows me to live even in these turbulent times with my heart outstretched as if it were my hand, to continue my work of restoring this glorious blue planet and celebrating its vibrant diversity of lives. 

May we all find our place of refuge and sustenance, and may we all go forth into the world with listening ears and giving hearts. It will take each of us to heal this world, working in our individual ways, bringing our unique talents, at our own pace. Thanks to you all for adding the gifts of your hands and hearts to the changes to come!

Sunrise on my running route--home

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Weeding Out Hatred and Darkness

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Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
-- Martin Luther King Jr., A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches

When hate and greed seem to dominate our world, as with yesterday's ugly and tragic events in Charlottesville, Virginia, it's natural to feel despair and grief, along with anger and hopelessness. What can we do, each of us, to combat what seems like an overwhelming descent into the darkness of violence and hatred? 

How can we heal this polarized nation, stem the tide of hate splitting what used to be "us" into tribes fearful of "them"? For that matter, how can we heal this earth, its climate changing so fast that whole ecosystems are breaking down, and we are losing species, in some cases before we even know them? 

I don't think there is any one answer to those questions, any one "right" way to proceed. It's up to each of us, working in our own way, to stand up for what we believe in.

To speak up and speak out. To act up, reach out, to write or march or preach or protest. To dance, sing, paint; to craft legislation, investigate crimes, argue points in legislatures, hearings, or courts. To fight fires, heal the wounded, pick up the pieces, comfort those who are scared or sick. To raise great kids, tend our elders and parents and partners. To do whatever we are called to do with love and compassion.

For all. Everyone. All lives, human and also those myriad of other lives with whom we share this extraordinary blue planet. 

Like these bees feeding on a thistle flower. 

The quote from Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at the top of the post guides my response: I aim to spread love and light in my every day actions. Because I believe that what we do speaks at least as loudly as what we say. So I treat others with kindness and respect; I extend my love to those who are difficult to love; I stand up for those who are being mistreated, speak for those who have no voice; I act with the love and light that have the power to drive out darkness and hatred.

I'm no saint. I get cranky and tired and impatient and angry. But I try to notice how I am feeling and choose to not take out my moods on others. I choose love. And kindness, a smile rather than a curse or a kick. I would rather be the one who opens a door than slams it shut in someone else's face. 

I'm not a push-over. If you think because I approach the world with a smile and kindness you can take advantage of me, think again. I stand up for myself and for others. Like the velvet-ant in the photo above (actually not an ant at all but a flightless female wasp), I have a stinger, and I will use it!

What I won't be is intentionally mean or hateful or hurtful or divisive. As I say in my morning prayer,

Make me strong. Not to overcome my brothers and sisters; to live in the Light and spread it to all I touch.

I believe that goodness has more staying power than hatred and violence. I believe that our everyday actions set a tone that others respond to. I believe in King's words: light can drive away the metaphorical darkness of racism and violence and greed; love can drive out hatred. 

Which is why I spent this past week in Yellowstone National Park, continuing my ecological restoration project, AKA digging out invasive weeds.

"Wait," you say, "I thought you were extending light and love to all. Now you are calling some lives 'weeds?' How is that consistent with living with compassion and love?" 

To me, "living in the Light" means standing up to bullies, and if need be, removing them to restore health to the community. To an ecologist, a weed is an introduced species who hasn't evolved healthy relationships, a species who doesn't contribute to the community and doesn't play well with others. A weed is a bully who, like the plants with the lovely purple flowers in the photo below, poisons other plants in order to gain a competitive advantage for itself. 

Spotted knapweed (Centaurea maculosa), a native of Eastern Europe which exudes poisons through its roots to kill the plants around it. 

I spent the week digging spotted knapweed by hand from areas around Mammoth Hot Springs. I dug up nine 30-gallon trash bags full of mature knapweed plants (some with tap roots a foot long!), about 200 plants and 15-20 pounds per bag. That's a lot of bullies.

There's a lot more knapweed to remove, but when I go back and look at an area that I and my fellow weed-warrior volunteers have worked on, I am heartened to see the native plants recovering, to see seedlings of bluebunch wheatgrass (Pseudoregneria spicata), oval-leafed buckwheat (Eriogonum ovalifolium), and basin big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata var. tridentata) moving in to re-weave a healthy community.

As I stoop or kneel to dig and yank and bag weeds, I speak to both the weeds and the surrounding native plants, explaining what I am doing, telling them that I do this work with love and respect for their existence. That my calling is to restore this earth and celebrate its extraordinary diversity of lives. I don't know whether my words reach them, but I know that they can sense my mood. And that matters. 

I also speak to park visitors passing by, letting them know why I am crouched near the ground, dusty and sweaty, wielding a seven-inch-long plant knife. Often they thank me for the work I'm doing, which is nice, but not my point. I want them to know that we humans can be a positive force in the world, a healing force, that we can use our power for love and light. That we can each make a difference.

I want to leave this world, or at least my small corner of it, in better shape than I found it. That is my way of pushing back the darkness and hatred. 

Hundreds-of-years-old big sagebrush shrubs, the old-growth "canopy" of the lower elevations of Yellowstone, and what I work to protect. 

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We Are All Tool Girls

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It started out innocently enough: On Friday afternoon, Jeff Durham, my contractor, was trimming the outside of the new windows in the kitchen bay, which is right next to the front entry. (The photo above shows the old windows, the brick enclosure in front of them on the left is the "planter" box.) I looked at the brick enclosure, and said, "You'll have to climb over that stupid thing." "Maybe it's time to take it out," he said a grin, knowing I can't resist a challenge.

That planter box has been on my to-demolish list since I first looked at the house. It's not original, it doesn't fit the house design, and worse yet in my book, it's unusable, wasted space. Because (1) it's too far under the deep eaves which keep my house cool in summer to get enough sun to grow anything, (2) if you filled it with soil it would rot the original cedar-shake and redwood siding that abuts it, and (3) it's too deep to fill anyway. 

"I'll take the first swing," I said. I had made good progress on one of two essays I'm writing for the 2019 Weather Calendar published by Accord, and I was feeling cocky. 

Jeff said mildly that each course of brick was two layers deep, so a sledge hammer might not be the demo tool of choice if I wanted to salvage the bricks. (He's worked with me for seven months now, so he knows my "recycle and reuse" ethic.) He went out to his workshop trailer and got his Bosch rotating hammer, something I had seen guys use in the past (Richard had one) but never laid hands on myself.

My new favorite tool: an 8-amp rotary hammer with chipping bit.

Jeff plugged in and proceeded to chip out part of the first course of bricks while I watched. He set the hammer down and looked at me. "Maybe you want to do it yourself," he said, with that grin again. (He does know me!)

I did. I got my work gloves, and while Jeff finished bending and cutting the powder-coat metal trim for the two windows outside the planter box, I whaled away at the top three courses of brick on the box so it would be easier for him to step over to do the trim on the next window. It took me a little while to get the feel of the rotating hammer, which is like a mini-jackhammer in terms of impact and kickback. 

Getting started on planter-box demo...

By the time he was beginning on that last kitchen window, stepping over the now-lower brick box, I had gotten my technique for separating bricks from mortar down, and had a good rhythm going. We worked companionably until about six-thirty, and then as he packed up his tools for the night, Jeff said, 

"I can leave you the rotary hammer so you can finish up tomorrow." 

I straightened my sweaty back and rotated my shoulders, aching from bracing the 8-pound hammer and its vibrating impact. I looked at what I had done, including the pile of mortar chunks and un-salvageable brick (some bricks are cracked, some don't come free of the mortar). "I think I need your dump trailer too."

He nodded and said he'd pick up the workshop trailer in the morning and leave the dump trailer when he did. 

Progress... (Notice those beautiful new kitchen windows with their custom white metal trim.)  

Which is how I came to spend most of my Saturday muscling a noisy rotary hammer, and sweating as I hauled bucket-loads of mortar chunks to Jeff's dump trailer, parked in my driveway. I honestly didn't think I'd be able to finish removing all the brick--12 courses high on one side, 14 on the other, double-thick, and 40 inches long by 50 inches wide equals a lot of brick and mortar to remove. 

And that hammer got heavier and heavier over the course of the day, as I got sweatier and more gray with mortar dust. But I kept whaling away, and I swear I felt my skinny biceps growing with each course of brick removed!

I can't shoot a photo of me working with a rotary hammer, because keeping it balanced and aimed is a two-handed operation. But my friend Connie Moody stopped by late in the afternoon and shot some photos. So there I am, sweaty and filthy Tool Girl. 

You'll have to imagine the noise, like a small jackhammer banging away... Thanks, Connie!

Brief commercial: Connie is half of the duo of Jay and Connie Moody, who manage the Thomas the Apostle Retreat Center outside town. If you are looking for a peaceful retreat place with gorgeous long views of the nearby mountains, check out the center's website. TAC boasts comfy and moderately priced rooms, a labyrinth to walk, Jay's beautiful Habitat-Hero-award gardens, and Connie's delicious meals. You don't have to be Christian to stay there... 

I finished chipping out the last course of brick late yesterday afternoon, and then schlepped the remainder of the pile of mortar chunks plus the broken bricks to Jeff's dump trailer, one bucket at a time, my muscles groaning with each load. I swept up the worst of the mortar dust, and hosed down the newly exposed walls and porch post. (I'll remove the mortar stains later, with a small grinder equipped with a brush.)

Then I just stood there with a huge smile on my face, admiring my new, more open front entry. I can already imagine the built-in bench that will tuck into the corner once walled off by the brick planter, with a small wall-mounted water feature above it bringing the soothing sound of trickling water, which I will be able to hear inside the kitchen too... 

I was sweaty, filthy, and weary, with every muscle aching, but I felt great. As I soaked in the tub later, I thought about what is so satisfying about this Tool-Girl work. Part of it is getting to do some of the actual hands-on work: I am project manager on this house renovation. I design (with Jeff's input), search out materials (ditto). But I rarely get to do the actual work, because I'm not the expert and I have a fulltime job already. 

Another part is knowing that Jeff will lend me his power tools, that he trusts me to be careful and capable, even if it's my first time with a particular tool. Reminding myself that I can do this hard work makes me feel powerful, in a positive way, and capable, and strong. 

That's a lot for a 60-year-old "girl" who grew up small and slight. And who didn't grow up or go through most of her adult life with any kind of tool-girl tendency or competence. I am Tool Girl, hear me roar... 

Every "girl" should know how to use tools, and learn the basics of building and un-building, of creating and repairing what we and others build. Whatever we do in our lives, knowing how to work with our hands and muscles makes us strong and capable, more grounded.

The truth is, we are all of us, whatever our age or size or background capable of being Tool Girl. We just don't believe it, we don't know it in our bones until we do the work ourselves, even just once. Then our bodies remember that strength and power and pride in ourselves, and carry it into the rest of our lives. That's a good thing for everyone.

We are all Tool Girl, hear us roar...

The dozens and dozens of bricks I chipped out are now edging the gravel paths and patios under construction in my yard. (Gravel to come later.) in this new incarnation, they're both useful and beautiful. 

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Renovation: Four Guys, a Forklift, and One Big Window

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Thursday, the hottest day this past week, was replace-the-dining-room windows day. That's the last in this batch of new windows for my wonderful but long-neglected house.  

We didn't pick the hottest day of the week on purpose. Thursday just happened to be when the stars aligned for my wonderful contractor, Jeff Durham, to have three helpers, plus the big forklift needed to move the 500-pound window-unit in place. Through my backyard. 

(The photo at the top of the post is pre-window-removal. You can see why I wanted to replace those particular windows: the right-hand one, a 60-year-old double-paned window, is so cloudy from having leaked decades ago that it's like seeing through a scratched lens. The left-hand window, while clearer, has an inoperable awning window with a rotted frame.)

The windows were built as a single unit, which complicates removal. As does the mid-century modern drywall "return," a rounded metal curve that conceals the drywall edge next to the window, without the need for additional trim. I love that clean, simple look. And its hard to duplicate if damaged.

Jeff, who I am convinced can do anything related to house construction or destruction, carefully Sawzalled (Yes, that is a verb!) between the old window unit and that metal bullnose to preserve it. And then he and Bo, a former construction guy turned personal trainer at the local gym who has been helping Jeff with my window-replacement, cut the awning windows out, and carefully removed the upper picture windows. 

Each picture window itself weighed over 100 pounds, so just hauling them to the dump trailer was no small task. Now I had a big rectangular hole in my wall, and the real fun began.

I can see clearly now... But it's a bit open to weather and flies!

The new windows--same style, also built as a unit--were in my garage. Getting that window unit out of the garage and around to the back of the house involved all four guys and a four-wheel drive forklift. 

First the guys muscled that window-unit onto the forklift basket. 

And then off Jeff drove, with Matt and his brother Jake balancing the window unit! Down the street, around the corner, up the alley...

And through the backyard (if you wondered why I haven't gotten started landscaping the back yard, the need to drive heavy equipment across it for our various renovation projects is why). 

Over the spruce stump, under the house eaves... 

And into the big hole in the wall. It fits!

New dining room windows in place. 

The new windows are so clear, and so much more efficient than the old ones (on a hot day, I can feel the heat through the old panes) that now I want to replace the bank of three windows in the living room area. Which is a big gulp! for my renovation budget. 

That new dining room window unit cost almost $2,000 just for the windows, not including renting the forklift and the guys' time, plus exterior trim and painting. I figure the living-room unit will cost around $3,000 and need the same forklift but probably at least one more guy. But oh, my! are the new windows beautiful and a huge improvement... 

So I've asked Julie at the Cody branch of Wyoming Windows & Cabinets for a quote. And while we're at it, there's the single unit in the breakfast room, and five awing windows I'd like to replace too: one in my office, one in the powder room off the kitchen, and three downstairs. 

Renovating this long-neglected house is neither simple, nor cheap. But solving the challenges is so satisfying. And it is such a joy to see and feel a once-beautiful place come back to life. Restoring this house restores me too--it exercises muscles, mind, and creativity, and fills my soul. I feel very, very fortunate to be able to do this work. 

Richard Cabe (1950-2011), sculptor, economist, father, husband, brother, friend, and the love of my life

I only wish the guy in the photo above could see it. He would so enjoy having his hands and creative brain on this project! (He's hand-hammering a steel bowl there, for a firepit he sculpted from a ton of granite boulder. Thanks to Harry Hanson, half of the ridiculously talented duo of Sterling & Steel for teaching Richard how to work steel.)

I've had Richard even more on my mind than usual because today would be his 67th birthday.

Happy Birthday, my love! Thank you for introducing me to design and building--I learned so much from watching you. You'd be surprised, and I hope pleased too, if you could see me now, Tool Girl, happily engaged in house renovation. 

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Family and Windshield Time

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I didn't blog last weekend because I was in western Washington with my family. It's so rare that the whole Tweit clan can gather (only Molly was missing) that I wanted to soak up every moment. Even my middle niece, Sienna, and her husband and kids were there from Germany, where Matt is on detail with the Army Corps of Engineers. I haven't seen them in three years! 

I left on Friday morning and intended to be leisurely about the 14-hour drive, stopping in Coeur D'Alene, in Idaho's Panhandle, for the night. Only when I got to Coeur D'Alene, it was only five o'clock and the temperature was 97 degrees. Not ideal weather for sleeping in my truck. I pressed on to Spokane (98 degrees) and continued west across eastern Washington in heat that just didn't let up. So I just kept driving. 

By the time bug-splattered Red and I crossed the Columbia River upstream of Yakima it was nine o'clock, 95 degrees, and the sun was close to setting. I calculated through a gritty brain (I had been driving for 12 hours by then) that I had about two and a half hours to go if the traffic in the Seattle-Tacoma corridor wasn't too horrible. 

I texted my brother and Lucy, his wife, that I was aiming for a late arrival. "So if you see Red in the driveway tomorrow morning, don't wake me up!"

They texted back that they couldn't wait to see me. "But drive carefully!"

I made it to their house on Tumwater Hill at a few minutes after eleven. They were still up, so I got to sleep inside in a real bed, always a plus. 

The next day was a mellow morning, and then we all--Bill, Lucy, their youngest, Alice, and I--headed out to Ocean Shores for the weekend, where most of the rest of the clan joined us. (Dad and my eldest niece's husband, Duane, couldn't join us there.) We feasted on fresh Dungeness crab that night (I was too busy cracking legs and eating the succulent meat to shoot a photo), and ate at a seafood shack that Heather and Duane had discovered on an earlier trip. (Great choice, Heath!)

Some of the clan around the big table at the seafood shack (I couldn't fit everyone in the photo!). Left to right, my youngest niece Alice, who is channeling her uncle Richard and studying economics; my brother Bill; my sister-in-law Lucy; Sienna and Matt; Colin, middle son of Heather (who is sitting next to me and not in the photo); and Fiona, Sienna and Matt's eldest. (Not in the photo: Porter, Sienna and Matt's youngest; Liam, Heather's youngest; and Heather.)

In between meals there was beach-time (Porter and Colin even braved the cold waves, agile and fearless as seals), explore-the-nearby-playground time, put-together-ridiculously-hard-puzzle time (my great-niece, Fiona is the artistic one and a puzzle champ), and just hang-out time. 

On the Fourth, half of us went to a lunchtime picnic at Panorama Dad's retirement village, and then we all gathered at Heather and Duane's gorgeous new house on Lake Tapps, outside Sumner, for a barbecue and fireworks. (Where I had such a great time I also forgot to shoot any photos.)

At the Panorama picnic: Sienna on the left, Matt next to her with Fiona in front, Bill with Porter in front of him, Lucy peeking over Dad's shoulder, and Dad showing off the walker he is using at 88 to help straighten up his spine (he's pretty stooped, but he'll be 89 in two weeks, so he's not doing badly). 

By the time I set out for the long drive home the next morning, I was feeling full of family and love, and ready for some quiet windshield time.

I'm an INFJ-A if you know the Myers-Briggs system of personality types. (If you don't, you might find the test and descriptions of personality types at Sixteen Personalities illuminating.) The 'I' stands for introvert. I'm not an extreme introvert, but I do need a lot of quiet thinking and digesting time. 

So instead of retracing the 14-hour route on Interstate 90 I took on the way to Washington, I took a longer route home. I dropped south to Portland, Oregon, on I-5, and then east through the Columbia River Gorge on I-84, over the Blue Mountains, and south and east through Boise, across southern Idaho, and then north along the back side of the Teton Range, and home through "The Park," as we refer to Yellowstone here where the nation's first national park is our backyard. 

Mt. Hood in the distance over the Columbia River as I headed south to I-84 and the Gorge. 

That's a drive of about 1,300 miles, instead of the just-under a thousand miles on the westward leg. Not a distance I could do in a day. 

Going the longer route gave me more windshield time for thinking, and also meant I got to travel a loop, rather than out and back. I like seeing the West's open landscapes, the more variety the better. 

It took me two full days of driving, and I spent the hottest night I've camped in Red's topper in a Walmart parking lot in Mountain View, Idaho, where the temperature at sunset was 97 degrees F, down from 100. (I was just too tired to drive on, and once the air cooled down, I slept pretty well.)

Still, it was a lovely time. I'm a reader of landscapes, parsing geology and landform, asking myself why these particular plants grow here but not there, or these plants are absent, pondering the human pattern of occupation, both historic and present day. I observe and think about what my observations mean, what the landscape and its patterns have to say to us. There is a lot to look at between Tumwater and Cody, and thinking about all I saw kept me pretty occupied. 

Driving into the Columbia River Gorge on the west end... 

And driving out on the east end. What's different about these two ends of the Gorge? And what explains that difference? Those are the kinds of questions I ask myself in reading landscapes. (Leave a comment at the bottom of the post if you guess the answer!)

I also spent time on my daily gratitudes, which include being grateful for these mostly wild and open landscapes and the many ways they inspire me. And being grateful for the time with my family, as well as for being able to come home to the place that is the home of my heart: Northwest Wyoming.

I thought about Richard, because he was always up for a road trip, and because he would have loved this family gathering (we talked about him over the weekend--my family misses him the way I do, like an ache in a limb you no longer have). And because part of my route home was on our Big Trip, the 29-year-late honeymoon drive we took two months before he died. 

Richard greets the redwood forest on The Big Trip (September, 2011)

And I thought about the question that preoccupies me this year more than other because I will turn 61 this fall, the age Richard was when he died: Who am I in this post-Richard life? 

It's a question that's been on my mind ever since November 27th, 2011, when I looked out at the slender silver sliver of new moon cupping Venus in the western sky and he was no longer there to share that sight. 

For the first three years after he died, I focused on digging myself out of the financial hole that brain cancer and losing him left me in. With the help of family and friends (special thanks to Andrew Cabe, Grand Pound, and Maggie and Tony Niemann), I finished and sold Terraphilia, the big house he built for us but never quite got around to finishing, and his historic studio building, which he began renovating but didn't finish either. (There was always an interesting sculpture challenge to solve first...)

Then I was focused getting my little house built, and on returning to freelance writing, along with writing the first half-dozen drafts of Bless the Birds, the memoir about learning to love the end of life that I still haven't finished. (I has taken a lot longer to get the story right than I imagined.)

And now, I'm home in Cody and realizing again how much of who I became over those almost 29 years together was because I was half of "us," "Richard 'n Susan," a pair so close we often finished each other's sentences, a pair mated for life. 

Richard 'n Susan, in the landscape he loved so much, and I loved because it was a home we could agree on, the Upper Arkansas River Valley in southern Colorado.

Without the other half of that pair, who am I? 

That is what I am working on finding out.

I know that I am most at home here in the sagebrush country on the east edge of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. That plants are my "people." That my mission in life is restoring and celebrating this earth and its vibrant web of lives, plant by plant and word by word. And that love is perhaps my greatest strength. (Earning a living clearly is not! Still haven't figured that one out.)

That's a lot, don't you think? 

But it's not everything. I'm still discovering parts of me I had forgotten for decades. This figuring out who I am as Woman Alone, the "just me" me, is a fascinating and sometimes disconcerting quest. 

I am very grateful to be home to do it. And to have such a warm and welcoming home to return to. Seeing this house come back to life is so heart-filling. Maybe that's what I'm doing too: Coming back to life. As just me. Whoever she is. 

My bedroom with new windows (same style as the old, just tight, thermally efficient, and the glass is so clear!), a new floor, and new paint. It's the first room in the house to be finished... 

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Renovation: New Windows, New Clarity

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All day I've had Jimmy Cliff's reggae rhythms in my head singing the first line of "Bright Sunshiny Day," "I can see clearly now...." (It's actually a Johnny Nash song; the Jimmy Cliff version is better-known though.)

Why is "I can see clearly now" my current earworm? Because yesterday was start-replacing-windows day at my house.

And now I can--see clearly out of at least some of my windows. It's not just visual clarity: the new windows are a big jump up in terms of sound-reduction, and insulation as well. 

I hadn't realized quite how corroded my 60-year-old, neglected windows had become until my contractor, Jeff Durham, and his helper, Bo took the first set out.

The guest bedroom with original windows... 

And with no windows at all... A much clearer, if perhaps too open view!

Getting the Mid-Century Modern windows out without injuring the original wood valance and metal bullnose trim--both integral parts of the uncluttered look and horizontal lines that characterize Mid-Century Modern design--involved a good bit of finesse. Which Jeff and Bo accomplished smoothly, if noisily with their Sawzalls, Dremel tools, and cordless drivers. 

If removal was a bit tricky; installing the new windows was... a bear. 

The new units include double-paned windows, with solid wood framing, and a clad exterior. The ones they were working with yesterday each weigh around 200 pounds. 

New window units storied in my garage (good thing I have a two-car garage so we have space for construction supplies!)

Prep-work involved cleaning up the old openings (I did the easy part, running the shop vac), trimming away obstructions, and leveling and building out the sills to fit the new units. 

Prepping the opening. That siding is the original western red cedar, painted to keep it from drying out in our arid climate. The color is not the original--it was once an eye-popping turquoise!

And Jeff and Bo grunted each new unit into place, marked any further adjustments, hoisted it out (with much rippling of muscles), made adjustments, and then eased the heavy unit in place again. 

One unit installed, one to go...

Once Jeff and Bo got done with the guest bedroom, they moved to my fabulous retro kitchen, and went through the whole process for the main unit of windows in that bay. 

Carefully removing the old windows without breaking the interior bullnose trim...

Opening prepped for the new window unit...

And easing in the heavy-as-heck new unit.

Jeff and Bo knew what they were doing, which made the process look easy, but it definitely wasn't. Still, they got the first three window units in. 

And oh! They are so beautiful.

Once the mullions are painted, and the outsides of each opening are wrapped with new trim, the new units will fit right in. And I will look at the windows I can't afford to replace yet, including the huge bank of three over-and-under windows in the living room, and dream about replacing those too. 

After Jeff finishes renovating two more bathrooms, builds me a back deck, and puts in a new roof and working gutters... 

Which means it'll be a while. Maybe years. That's okay. I have the worst of the old ones replaced. And I have a bathtub now in my beautiful and almost-finished en-suite bathroom. 

The soaking tub in the bathroom we fitted in one corner of my bedroom (my bedroom will get new windows sometime this week). I have a whole suite to myself!

Did I mention that I love my house? My new windows remind me of how life-changing clarity can be.

I am clear about this: I am grateful to be alive, and to have the gift of this refuge, this house that fills my battered heart with love, in the landscape that nurtures my spirit. 

May every one of you find such a home, a place that gives you strength and clarity to pursue your life's mission. And may we each work at making this world a safer, more peaceful, and healthier place for us all--every species, every being. Blessings!

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